The two most suspenseful sports-related moments of 2010 were made possible by LeBron James' "The Decision.”
How’s that for irony?
Thanks to one of the most awkward, scripted and stage-managed pieces of programming in ESPN’s 30-year history, we’ve gotten a pair of genuine “I have no idea what the hell is gonna happen” events in a five-month span.
This is not to say that there have not been fantastic games and spectacular moments, but they fall into a different bucket. That’s excitement, not suspense. Those moments are not scheduled and anticipated. Not every anticipated sporting event lives up to the hype and even as a close game heads toward what’s certain to be a dramatic finish, there are really only a few minutes of actual suspense.
However, in the case of The Decision, we had an event that the basketball world had waited two years for culminating in a single hour of television. That it ultimately wound up feeling like an ill-fated SNL skit is secondary. In this era of round-the-clock media, Twitter and the blogosphere, very rarely does a sports story of this type (a free agent signing, a trade, a draft selection) unfold without the result having been reported, written about and analyzed prior to the actual announcement.
This was an event whose result was kept under wraps fairly effectively. Prior to The Decision, we obviously knew of LeBron’s free agency and the fact that he’d be announcing his new team during the program, but that was it. We know that something was going to happen, but we didn’t know what exactly and we all had a couple of days to wait, think, speculate and opine on the matter.
Now, in fairness, prior to The Decision, Dan LeBatard, Stephen A. Smith and Chris Broussard (whatever you may think of them, all legitimate reporters) all reported that trusted sources had told them that LeBron would be choosing the Miami Heat, but for whatever reason (and correct me if I’m wrong), those reports still had an air of speculation and rumor about them.
Maybe we refused to believe that LeBron would create an hour-long national television spectacle just to crush Cleveland’s soul.
Maybe it was Miami that seemed unbelievable. Of the options LeBron had to choose from (Miami, Cleveland, New York, New Jersey, Chicago and the L.A. Clippers), from a basketball legacy perspective, Miami seemed far closer to the bottom of the list that to the top. Plus, play for the Heat just a day after Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh announced they’d be doing the same? That couldn’t happen!
So, despite a trio of true journalists giving us a spoiler to the movie, we watched anyway, if for no other reason than “to see what was going to happen.” That, my friends, is suspense.
Which brings us to tonight and one of the most anticipated regular season NBA games in recent memory.
The return of the prodigal son to Northeast Ohio. LeBron leads his thus-far-disappointing “superteam” back to into his old building, which is going to be a cauldron that will rival any European soccer stadium, to face the team and the city that he left for dead. And much like that surreal hour in early July, any number of things could happen. Frankly, outside of the booing, I have no idea what I think will happen. But something’s gonna happen!
I’m sure some portion of the events of this evening will surprise me, but there’s not too much in the realm of realistic possibility that would shock me. Fans storming the court to have a go at LeBron? I could see that. Dan Gilbert paying a former member of the KGB to abduct LeBron? Sure, why not? Anderson Varejao sacrificing a couple games’ salary (officially, we all know Gilbert would repay him 150% in unmarked bills) to become a local icon with a well-timed hip-check? Likely. LeBron “pulling a hamstring” and searching for a side exit? More likely than I’d like to believe.
Hell, even from a basketball perspective this game is pretty interesting. LeBron’s superteam, sporting a not-bad-but-hugely-disappointing 11-8 record (how many titles were they going to win? Six? Seven? Eight?) and plagued by unprecedented scrutiny and still searching for an identity, taking on his former team, who are 7-10. Hardly the stuff of legend, but not nearly as bad as some had predicted.
On the floor, Miami has shown an inability to rebound and to defend active frontcourt players and point guards. While the Cavs don’t have the raw talent and name recognition of the Heat, they’ve got the personnel to make life difficult for Miami. Up front, expect Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Antawn Jamison and Leon Powe to crash the boards and make Bosh, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Joel Anthony and Erik Dampier have to move their feet.
Meanwhile, at the point, Cleveland features Hype-favorite Ramon Sessions and former LBJ wingman Mo Williams, neither of whom is Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but a pair of decent point guards that can hurt an ill-equipped team. Plus, Williams’ comment that the return of LeBron is “almost like your ex-girlfriend coming to your wedding" is a pretty sure sign that the intensity will be ratcheted up at the Q tonight.
What’ll happen? I don’t know. But something’s goin’ down.
Thanks to LeBron and the self-promotion tour that is his life, in five months we’ve gotten a pair of events, rather trivial in the big picture (the announcement of a decision he’d already made and a single game out of an 82-game season), that have taken on a larger-than-life feel and become must-see TV.
Love him or hate him, you cannot call LeBron James and all that swirls around him boring. The guy knows drama better than TNT.
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